Changing Face, the Hutongs

Absolutely beautiful autumn day here in Beijing (I think they will be able to ‘do’ the Olympics) clear blue sky, crisp fresh air…. this is , of course due to the CPC – Chinese Peoples Congress – a five yearly meeting of thousands of delegates from all over China (many in traditional dress) – spectacular, powerful, impressive….

Spent yesterday wandering around the ‘Hutongs’ large white Chinese characters roughly painted on the walls…. demolish!

The Chinese are true ‘squatters’…. the paths between ruined houses have been swept, broken walls, bricked up, plastic sheets hang over smashed roofs… and the power has been rigged up again…. clean washing hangs to dry amid the rubble…

(Oh, and the people are angry…. pointing and shouting and asking me to take photos)

Settling into Tuanjiehue

I’ve settled into my apartment in Beijing its in an older undeveloped part of town called Tuanjiehu in Chaoyang district, the apartment is on the 4th floor of a Chinese block… there are little wooden stools and bicycles and hand made stick brooms on the landings… the lights are sound sensitive so you can hear as each person ‘stamps’ on the landings on the way up and down the concrete stairs.

Its sunny and light… overlooking a quite street lined with birch trees and providing passage for a steady stream of bicycles and carts and taxis, the sound of hawkers ‘calling’ or pedestrians laughing or the military marching drifts upwards…

I have everything a girl could need within walking distance… to the east at the end of the block a bank, across the road to Jingkelong Supermarket and a small local fresh food market, opposite a Chinese department store next to the post office… further to the north beside Chaoyang park, Jenny Lou’s for those that crave white bread, fresh milk and cheese, its shelves lined with comfortingly familiar international ‘brands’… to the west Beijing Roast Duck THE best Peking duck restaurant in China!

The 115 bus takes you to the circle line or line 5 subway stations or on towards the National Gallery, the 402 takes you north east to Factory 798 (the ‘contemporary’ arts precinct) the 420 to CAFA, the Chinese Academy of Fine Arts, while the 43 takes you on a round about route southwards which eventually passes Red Gate Gallery and the Beijing Railway Station. (This of course was discovered after a little trial and error)

I’m being very well looked after by Brian Wallace from Red Gate Gallery, a welcome dinner on Thursday Night and Gallery opening on Friday… he is currently ‘hosting’ a dozen artists from across the world, so conversations are guaranteed to be lively.

Off to Factory 798 tomorrow, to have a look at Art Beijing 2007 – that should take most of the day cos there are literally hundreds of galleries and artist studios to visit…. then I’m going to buy some rice paper, ink and brushes, wood cutting tools and some nice soft wood (to carve)…

Guangzhou revisited

The train to Guangzhou only took 12 hours, I shared my compartment with three women and a 4 year old boy – so managed to practice my Chinese and play games…

I’ve reassessed Guangzhou – after traveling, I really enjoyed my second visit mainly cos there are no tourists and you just move around like the locals, its a bit like Chengdu, only much bigger… quite modern without being shanghai and very accessible… not a bad alternative to Hong Kong which is horribly expensive (900 Yuan a night at the YMCA in Kowloon) and 20y for a local beer.

I spent the day wandering around the water front markets, ‘the biggest in china’… huge old timber buildings packed to the rafters with every food and consumable product imaginable… rolls of copy tags for copy bags and clothing, YSL, Boss, Levi, Northface… thousands of buttons in all shapes and sizes… around the corner to the sacks of dried shrimps and fish and abalone and seaweed… then every size of beans and pulses… huge piles of spices in a kaleidoscope of colour…

Then a taxi to the Contemporary Art Gallery… a visual treat with a fabulous book shop (many in english)

You’ve Got To Laugh

Well finally found a computer with reasonable internet access and thought I’d send you a couple of ‘special’ things that I’d been saving for you…

Trawling through the 64 television stations I caught the tail end of the 1/2 hour weekly foreign language program on Beijing TV… and enjoyed the following tidbits:

”… In fighting for peace china has always been the greatest … “

”… In the past men ruled all things outside the home while women managed home affairs … today we believe that women ‘hold up half the sky’ … Now lets see what the foreign diplomats wives are up to … they are busy preparing delicacies for sale (a cake stall) … showing both their graceful beauty and talent… “

And in the Foreign Language Bookshop

In a delightful book called: ‘Modern English’ the following phonetic pronunciations:

  • gi dao’d mai feis (get out my face)
  • shi wd bi pridi if shi we’zn so faet (she would be pretty if she wasn’t so fat)
  • (needless to say they were learning american not english)

    The american in the pharmacy … approaches the counter with a brightly coloured packet of tablets he has selected from the shelves…

    “hello I’m looking for something for a cough… “cough” “cough” “cough” …. as he pushes the packet across the counter… Oh, not these?… Oh, they are for birth control…”

    And ……… watch out for the next Chinese product to hit the market – launched at the Guangzhou trade fair – stackable fruit grown within square moulds (oranges, grapefruits, gourds, melons each beautifully embossed with the Chinese characters for ‘love’ ………. ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

    and two of my more personal experiences…

    Each night walking home in Beijing I’ve passed a blind man with a child on the street playing a bamboo whistle …. on my last night i sat down and washed the childs hands and face then gave him a warm bread roll (whole wheat) … while his father launched into the only english song he knew … happy birthday to you

    and last night while i was having dinner in Datong, Shanxi Province (the largest open cut coal mine in the world and also home of the ‘hanging temple’ and the most amazing giant Buddha carvings in grottos overlooking the coal pits) three children stood giggling at the side of my table – I gestured for them to come over and the launched into “Hello how are you what is your name my name is … i am a student my school is … ” without taking a breath.

    We played around for a while and they ran off … about ten minutes later all the men in the restaurant started laughing and pointing … the kids had come back with their English school books and crowded around the table reciting various phrases interspersed with ‘excellent’ ‘& ‘very good’…….

    Catching the night train to Pingyao @ 10pm – I’ve booked a hard sleeper (which isn’t too bad – only three hard bunks to a wall (6 in each alcove and we get pillows and a doonaish thingie) its also interesting sleeping in the same space as five men so far I’ve been lucky they have just snored – I’m dreading spending 9 hours with someone who clears their throat all night – and leans over to spit on the floor…… WWWWHHHHHAAAARRRRKKKKK – very wet, very gurglely and probably the most disgusting sound I’ve every heard!)

    Take care

    xx Kate